|Jered Weaver, if only he sold the cotton candy…|
When I first considered even sharing out about taking my daughter to a baseball game, I had to think about how I wanted to even tell the story. For me anyway, it was unavoidable that I began to consider how much I should bash on Arte Moreno, the Angel owner, and his irrational belief that Orange County is a part of Los Angeles. (If you’re not familiar with what I’m specifically making reference, this is, more or less (because it is Wikipedia) an unbiased summary…) Of course, if you believe this man, he wants nothing to do with Los Angeles. Which, incidentally, sets up a New York-style situation wherein a major league sports team’s metropolitan market resides in another state, but now I’m digressing…
It is worth noting however, that on the day of the game, the local paper was running Angel stuff below the fold–even while the Halos were battling to stay within reach of the Texas Rangers AND after a huge comeback win, while the Dodgers, in the midst of a terrible year, was getting all the attention by declaring bankruptcy while their owners were divorcing. Oh yeah, Anaheim is definitely LA, Arte, and the Angels are gonna replace the affection for the Dodgers all across Southern California, right?
But anyway, Moreno would have been too easy of a mark for me. Despite his insistance upon a geographic impossibility, not to mention a total ignorance between the relationship between denizens of LA County versus those of the OC, in the end, did I want to write about someone “geographically ignant” or about what really mattered–my girl? I mean, even at her age, Katelyn’s natural geographic curiousity (she loves to read a Disneyland map, and she can pick out California on a U.S. map), she intuitively knew that we weren’t traveling to Los Angeles by heading south on the same freeway we used to get to Disneyland. So, deciding that I wanted to take Katelyn for her first *real* (explanation to follow in a moment) major league baseball game was never really that much of an issue. Nor was it a question of *where*. After all, this has been the season of this sort of stuff going on in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. While, in many respects, I’ve come to prefer the Dodger Stadium experience (at least before it turned into a John Carpenter film. But again, I’m digressing…the bottom line is that I felt more comfortable, given present circumstances, taking Katelyn, by myself, to an Angel game.
Now then, despite my own preference of baseball as my fan game of choice (or college football, depending upon the season), trying to share that relationship with my preschooler has been a checkered effort, to say the least. But to say the most, this past week’s (3-game series, with a Thursday day game) match-up between the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels of Arte Moreno was meant to be my daughter’s first trip to a Major League ballpark–or, at least, the trip that she was supposed to remember.
As opposed to our first trip, that the wife and I are still trying to forget… (insert flashback screen effect here)
Our first attempt was inadvertant. Katelyn was still in her infancy, and my wife was ending her first year as principal of her current school. One of her teachers had scheduled her husband’s birthday party at Dodger Stadium. Amber, Katelyn, and I, were invited, and despite my misgivings, off we went. I had ample misgivings. The tickets were for the infamous “All-You-Can-Eat” Pavilion in RF. It was during the Mannywood heydey. And, ultimately, it was a day game.
Ideal for an infant, right? And an infant with a fever? Of course!
Um, no. Big mistake. We had no idea she was running warmer than she should have been, but we didn’t help matters with the series of misadventures that followed. The stadium’s outfield seats offer little if any shade. My original plan had me buying Loge Level seats (which are shaded throughout the game), have us go and sit in the Pavilion for an inning or two, and then head over to our regular seats. It made sense, but having not been to a Dodger game for a time prior to this particular game, the remainder of the afternoon was a comedy of errors, none of which was funny.
This was around the time the McCourts had changed the traffic patterns in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, so we wound up leaving the car too close to the Sunset entrance, which meant a long hike up the hill to get to the Loge Level area, but then further, since we were sticking to our plan to visit in the RF Pavilion. We made it worse by running late, and by our choice to take our umbrella stroller and its limited shade, instead of our bigger stroller. As such, we were pushing Kate through a rapidly heating parking lot, trying to get ourselves over to the Pavilion, all while the game was going on, and we were trying to reach the ticket holder to meet us at the gate to get us in. Eventually we got in, and to me, the scene in the Pavilion was very close to insane as could be imagined. As food was placed on the counters, it was quickly grabbed off not unlike a feed trough. Cold water was lukewarm, at best. At a certain point, it began to resemble aid being dispensed to desperate disaster victims.
Eventually, we got ourselves out of our seats and below the pavilion, where there was shade, realizing that Kate wasn’t feeling all that well, and was likely having her fever getting worse by the sun exposure. Either way, we had to leave–forget the idea of moving into the Loge Level seats. Later, after we had gotten home, the wife and I kept asking ourselves if we really were *that* unfit of parents for the entire Dodger Stadium fiasco.
But that was then. I was determined, at some point, that I wanted to take Katelyn back to a ballgame. My best friend had told me that he felt more comfortable taking his little girl to a game round about 3 years of age. So last summer, I grabbed 3 tickets on Stub-Hub for an Angel giveaway night–Snoopy Bobbleheads–that I wound up eating because of a last minute change of plans. (I later found and bought the bobble for Kate on eBay.). Consequently, I made it a point again this year to try again, identifying midweek day games as a likely choice, given, what I thought would be less of a crowd and more of an opportunity to take Katelyn around and show her the baseball crowd atmosphere. But as luck would turn out, the better of two choices I had, an early July game against the Detroit Tigers fell smack into my summer school assignment, leaving only the Ranger game as my choice. Nonetheless, I had no idea that the game would wind up with 38,000+ in attendance.
Driving up, I could already tell, even without the entry gates open, that it would be larger than I expected. I thought to myself that scoring $10 Terrace level seats was therefore serendipity given such a large crowd. Perhaps it might have been better had I been thinking about getting into the parking lot. Unlike Dodger games, Angel games are much cheaper, but I had mistakenly read somewhere that it was $8 rather than the $10 it actually turned out to be. Naturally, I had $9 + change when I hit the ticket booth. It was at this point that I had my first break of the day. Clearly seeing my discomfort at having to try to turn around to get out of the parking lot, to go find an ATM, the parking attendant allowed me to go in for the $9.25 I had on hand. As I drove off, I realized I hadn’t caught her name, already embarrassed by the fact that I had apparently read the wrong website for parking lot information. (Either way, I am acknowledging her now–thanks!) I headed into the lot, found a decent spot, and, in a bit or irony, pulled out the very same umbrella stroller that had been a part of the Dodger Stadium fiasco 3 years before (including the stadium claim tag still attached). With Katelyn still not 100% from a broken leg a couple of months prior, I thought having some stroller help would make it easy to get her through the Stadium parking lot.
So on we went, with me admittedly far more nervous about the upcoming several hours than my little girl happened to be…as we walked towards the large helmets that mark the home plate main entrance to the stadium, I went over with Katelyn the expectations and ground rules that I need to be followed–including the obligatory reminder that I needed smiles for photographs. As I managed to get her towards the entrance. waiting for the gates to open, one of the ticket takers swung one of the larger gates open, stepped out with a portable ticket scanner, and zipped us inside the stadium. At last…
First stop, swag. Into the gift shop where the hope was an appropriately sized shirt (no luck there, as the smallest child size carried was small) along with a cap. Given the team’s 50th anniversary, there were a number of replica throwback caps, including this one, worn by the team from 1972 to 1992. Ultimately, this was the version Katelyn chose to have me get, after I made it a point to show her several of the other versions, and to my pleasant surprise, she agreed to wear it throughout the remainder of the afternoon.
Proceeding through the bowels of the stadium, I had to try to remember how to get back up to the Terrace level, not to mention there was a need to get food, a fact Kate reminded me as we passed down the first base side of the stadium to the general area of our seats. Eventually, I remembered the stadium ramps, a link to the old Anaheim Stadium configuration, and pushed Kate up towards the Terrace level and, at last, towards a view of the field.
This was supposed to be the moment of Bob Costas clarity, Katelyn marveling at this “cathedral” of green, of players running across the field, catching, throwing, and hitting. Since it was early, and we were fairly close to the home plate area, I had already pictured it in my mind.
Sadly, no. Kate was definitively unimpressed. I watched her face eagerly for a reaction. None was coming. She wanted a hot dog. And cotton candy. And peanuts. No Cracker Jack (I tried…) Worse, as I glanced across the field, with the exception of some Angel bat boys, and the Rangers’ starting pitcher CJ Wilson stretching with his bullpen crew, there was nothing in the way of player prep. “Dammit”, I thought. I should have known. Early day games in Anaheim have generally meant no batting practice. Consequently, there would be no chance for Katelyn to sit and watch balls get hit all over the place, in the same way my dad and I had sat watching, or other times when I’d gone to games with my best friend. The communal act of batting practice, an experience lost on my wife for instance, who prefers to get to games right before they start, would have to wait for another day with Kate.
Off we went for food, and the inevitable discovery, I suppose, that it’s hard to try to balance a food tray while pushing a stubborn umbrella stroller to get to our seats, which were just past the left field foul pole. Then, the next challenge: for the first time, I realized just how deep stadium steps would have to be in order to handle the seats to let people see over each other. I raced the tray down to our aisle, then back up again to walk Katelyn down the steps, fully terrified that at this exact moment, someone would snatch up and kidnap Katelyn while I tried to situate a hotdog tray! Once Kate was settled, I realized I had forgotten the stroller at the top of the stairs, so I raced back up, and brought it down, this time worried that in the 20 seconds of having my back turned, Kate would disappear. I actually made it a point to introduce Katelyn to the stadium ushers so she could recognize them by uniform should something happen to me. Alas, the usher uniforms of my youth had been replaced by white buttondowns, vest, and straw hat, but it was nonetheless recognizable enough to a 4-year-old, who spent a chunk of our time, pointing out ushers and security people to me as we went about our afternoon.
Thankfully, despite my preparations, my worst fears for the day would not come to pass, and after I was able to get Katelyn sat down and eating, I could focus on trying to inculcate my little girl into the rhythm of a ball game. But there was no batting practice, and aside from random live action from the Blue Jays/Mariners game being telecast on the big screen scoreboard, Kate had a hard time really seeing and asking questions about what was around her. In retrospect, while I didn’t want to spend top dollar for seats near home plate, partly because I didn’t know how long Katelyn would hold up, being nearer to game action would have enabled me to better talk to her about the game, much like we had done a week or so earlier when I took her bowling for the first time.
Probably the first real reaction from Katelyn, aside from her nearly immediate discovery of the cotton candy vendor, were the fireworks during the national anthem. I was proud that Katelyn listened to me, removed her hat, and attempted to hold it over her heart, even though I had neglected to even explain what the purpose of what we doing at that time. She stood at attention about as well as you could expect an active 4-year-old could, but when she heard the fireworks go off out of the centerfield rock formation, that immediately became her focus for the remainder of the game. Little did it matter that Mssrs. Wilson and Weaver would hook up in a nice pitcher’s duel during this afternoon, Kate wanted to see the rock formation, or, barring that, a home run that would bring fireworks. Of the two, I knew I could deliver the former, and, as it turned out, neither starting pitcher, nor their respective bullpens would allow the latter.
Not surprisingly, while I’ve gotten better responses from having my girl watch snippets of sporting events with me, the game in front of her wasn’t registering all that much. I can only guess that our view which, I mentioned above, was part of the reason. I also know that the game occurred smack in the middle of her nap time, so it was not surprising to see her trying to recline on less-than-comfortable-for-napping stadium seats. After a couple of innings of the game, wherein the Angels wound up scoring the game’s only run on a dropped flyball by the Rangers’ Endy Chavez (and to which I was oblivious because I wasn’t keeping score of the game as I normally would have done, as well as not paying real attention thanks to trying to keep my kid plied with peanuts and pink lemonade, we finally took ourselves up and out on a walk towards the “rocks” in centerfield.
(at left: stopping by the Family section over the bullpen…)
I began to notice early on, how much more advertising was in the Stadium than had been in the past as I remembered it. While my wife has jokingly noted that she was convinced that I had ADD, glancing about the park certainly triggered something if I, in fact, had it. Growing up, this (scroll down to see archival photos of the configurations of the stadium since it began as Anaheim Stadium)
was what I remembered from my youth and young adulthood (including sitting in the old upper CF bleachers at the 1989 All-Star Game to see this land just below our seats. But now, I finally realized how much of the stadium that Arte Moreno had given over to advertising wherever he could stick it. Katelyn was particularly curious of the Monster Energy drink sign placed over the hitting background, and I could only mumble openly to myself about Moreno’s own ADD. (Stay classy Arte!) Still, success was only footsteps away, Katelyn had reached the stadium’s rocks nearest to its waterfall.
Naturally, she demanded a chance to actually look at the water, and much like the California coastline it was built to resemble, the water didn’t quite look the correct color. But that was OK with the girl, and we continued our little walk, past the Budweiser Patio and towards a makeshift carnival game area for kids. I hd thought that this would be a good place to take Kate during the game, except that there wasn’t much to see in the middle of the week. It turns out that the day to come is Sunday afternoons, when the area becomes a family area with arts/crafts, ubiquitous face painting, and some skill games. Still, two of the games were open, without any line, Katelyn was able to show me how much I have to work on her ball throwing, and as we moved towards the ring toss, I realized that we needed some work in that area also, although the fact that the prize was the same Snoopy bobblehead she already had, I didn’t feel so bad. Eventually, armed with a pink souvenir bat that we picked up on our way back to our seats, this was Katelyn’s reward…
While I was convinced the cotton candy was going to have me killed when my wife found out about it, I was fortunate in that the concept was more appealing than the actual treat. She only ate a couple of actual bites before handing it back to me. Unlike the leftover peanuts from earlier in the afternoon, which I bundled into my backpack, Katelyn was tiring by this point, not really watching the game. By this time, it was the 5th inning, and I began to realize that the Rangers were actually losing (by being so focused upon Kate, I thought the game was still a scoreless tie, after I missed the Angels’ run score in the 2nd) by a run. I tried to watch some of the action myself to re-acclimate myself, making the now restless preschooler sit through the crucial 6th inning, wherein the Rangers loaded the bases with two out, before Jered Weaver got 1st baseman Mitch Moreland to strike out to end the inning, and the Rangers’ last real threat of the game. Ultimately, I was able to coax one more seated inning out of Katelyn to make it to the 7th inning stretch, where she was able to hear “Take Me Out to the Ballpark”, a song she remembered from preschool. Once the song faded from the stadium’s loudspeakers though, off we went on another tour of the stadium, making a stop for lemonade, and again wandering over past the same territory we had covered in our earlier jaunt. Ultimately, what impressed me the most, was how Katelyn had now taken 1 1/2 trips around the stadium’s terrace level on foot, since I had left the stroller under our seats on both sojourns. I knew that my kid HAD to be exhausted. Seeing her make a slight protest as we hiked back around to our seats, after I chased off some tween boys who had commandeered our seats, I could tell that she would could not sit still for the rest of the game, and I had to calculate the speed in which the 8th inning flew by to make the decision that it was time to leave, especially if I didn’t want to get trapped in the inevitable traffic heading out, mixed with the beginning of rush hour on I-5 heading north, on the way home.
Within minutes of exiting the stadium up Gene Autry Way to the Santa Ana Freeway’s carpool on-ramp, this (at left) was what I saw in my rearview mirror. Of course, no one had made her *want* to take nearly two complete trips around the stadium this afternoon.
This weekend, we will try this again, this time in San Diego, at Petco Park, at a Padre game. Here’s hoping that I get my wish for some batting practice this time around.